Staci Robbins is on the Renewal waiting list for a kidney donation. Renewal is holding an information meeting at Young Israel of Toco Hills on Sunday, May 7 at 7pm. Read more about the Renewal here..
It was the mid-1980s in Detroit when Staci Robbins was diagnosed with cancer at 4 years old. She endured chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant. She was given six months to live.
When she was 8, doctors determined that one of her kidneys had failed, and the other was at 50 percent functionality. Her hearing began to decrease.
She vividly remembers the required change in diet, which included no salt and low potassium. She could not drink Coke or eat chocolate; she brought her own low-sodium packets of salad dressing to restaurants.
Fatigued, Robbins continued activities like choir and performing arts but stopped attending physical education. Her two sisters lived with their grandparents, her mom stayed with her at the hospital, and her father worked to pay medical bills.
In high school Robbins developed gout from increased uric acid, a side effect of kidney dysfunction. She felt pain in her elbows, toes and other joints. She depended on crutches.
Still, Robbins celebrated becoming a bat mitzvah, graduated high school and went to college at Michigan State University.
At 25, she discovered that her one functional kidney was working at only 18 percent. Her middle sister, a perfect match, donated a kidney to Robbins through surgery at Emory University Hospital, and Robbins’ body accepted the organ.
With pain and guilt in her voice, the now-35-year-old Dunwoody resident described the experience.
“The kidney lasted for four years, almost to the day. But I had a lot of other issues going on in my life. I was not compliant with the meds and my health. I had an eating disorder. I lost the kidney,” she said. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, to tell my sister, because it was a perfect match. I needed it, and she gave it to me.”
When her kidney failed in 2010, Robbins was admitted to the hospital and started emergency dialysis, a painful procedure. Ideally, a port is inserted into the body a few months before dialysis begins to give the body time to adjust and heal.
“I was teaching school all day. I’d leave work and go to treatment from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. three days a week,” she said.
Robbins received a stern lecture from her doctors to comply with the plan: Complete an eating disorder treatment, attend all dialysis appointments and get back to a healthy weight.
Five years later, on a Sunday morning, Robbins received a call from Emory with news of a kidney. They asked her to come in to complete medical tests in preparation for a transplant. Her parents drove in from Savannah. Her sisters came from Detroit and Chicago.
“For so long I didn’t think I deserved another chance. I had gotten to a point where just months before I was living for the hope of a kidney. I was so grateful for a second chance,” she said.
This time the kidney came from a cadaver. Robbins exercised her right to reach out, via a letter, to thank the donor’s family, but she did not hear back.
“We were monitoring my mental state more closely. The first time, the surgery made me an insomniac. I was anxious and depressed,” she said. “This time, I was able to go back to work. I started a new job at a different school. I bought a new home. I was starting over.”
Exactly one year later Robbins had trouble breathing because of an ongoing cough when she was admitted to the hospital and checked for kidney failure. Doctors attempted to jump-start the organ, but after a summer of illness, including pneumonia, she started dialysis again.
“Some days it’s like enough is enough,” she said. “In so many ways I have been lucky with my family and my support system. They want me to try for a third (transplant). My doctors know me so well and know how important it is to keep going. Every day I have to keep going.”